Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral (San Francisco, California)
The History of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, San Francisco
St. Sophia, the precursor to Annunciation Cathedral, came into being June 1921, when a group of parishioners from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, sympathetic to Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos established a second Greek Orthodox community in San Francisco. Land was acquired at Hayes and Pierce streets, all the lots facing Pierce street from Hayes to Fell streets, for the purpose of building a Cathedral and an adjoining school and orphanage. Ground was broken June 26, 1921 where His Eminence Metropolitan Meletios Metaxakis, laid the cornerstone of the Cathedral.
The community chose Father Philaretos Ioannnides as their first priest. He was accomplished, well educated and capable. In 1923, he was consecrated as the first bishop of Chicago and appointed bishop of San Francisco, locum tenens. He would later become Metropolitan of Syros.
On August 7, 1927, Father Kallistos Papageorgopoulos was consecrated as the first Bishop of San Francisco by Archbishop Alexandros. The consecration was held at St.Sophia on Hayes & Pierce Streets. A banquet in honor of the occasion was held at the Hotel Whitcomb. His Grace, Bishop Kallistos, established his office at the Cathedral.
The St. Sophia community grew, requiring larger facilities. In April 1928, the community acquired the Valencia Street Theater, which stood on the earlier site of the pavilion of Woodward's Gardens. George Burns, among others, often mentioned how he got his start at the Valencia Street Theatre, known as the "grandest, most beautiful of the West."
In 1929, Father Pythagoras Caravellas, St. Sophia's priest for six years, contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a santorium in Belmont. His story is particularly interesting because he was a Harvard University educated doctor who gave up a career as a doctor to become a priest. Father Caravellas and Presvytera Evangeline helped many Greek immigrants adjust to life in the United States. In spite of the economic strain of the Great Depression, the community wanted Father Caravellas to receive the best medical care. Sadly, he passed away in 1934 at the age of 44. His passing was a tragic loss to the Greek community.
History was made at the Cathedral in 1929 when Alexandra Apostolides, a St. Sophia parishioner, founded the Daughters of Penelope. Mrs. Apostolides was educated at the University of Berkeley. Her husband, Dr. Emmanuel Apostolides, was a devoted Ahepan and very supportive of his wife's desire to start a woman's organization. Mrs. Apostolides' impact on Greek women was profound throughout her life.
In 1935, however, in the wake of financial difficulties brought on by the Great Depression, the Saint Sophia community declared bankruptcy. The Bank of Italy, later Bank of America, foreclosed and purchased the church property in a foreclosure auction. In 1936, the Saint Sophia community was reorganized and named the United Greek Orthodox Community of San Francisco, the Annunciation. The parish subsequently repurchased the church building for the original auction price of $22,000 largely due to the efforts of Chris Katon.
In 1936, Father Basil Lokis arrived in San Francisco as an assistant priest to Fr. Constantine Tsapralis at Holy Trinity. Father Tsapralis was nearing retirement and Father Lokis would eventually become his replacement. Father Lokis was young, ambitious, spoke several languages, and was a brilliant speaker. He led a movement to unite both parishes, Holy Trinity and Annunciation. According to Holy Trinity's parish council, Fr. Lokis attempted to appoint board members that supported unification (as opposed to them being elected by parishioners) which ultimately led to litigation by Holy Trinity in the form of a series of injunctions. The court ruled that the parishes should vote on the issue of unification. Annunciation voted for unification and Holy Trinity voted against unification. As a part of the court settlement, Father Lokis was dismissed from his position at Holy Trinity and was hired by Annunciation. Father Tsapralis asked the Archdiocese for permission to leave Holy Trinity and become Annunciation's second priest. His request was granted and he served Annunciation until his passing in 1942. Father Spyridon Spyropoulos, who had been at Annunciation since 1929, was transferred to San Diego where he became the first priest of the San Diego community.
As a result of this series of events, over half of Holy Trinity's parishioners left Holy Trinity and joined Annunciation. Under Father Lokis' leadership, Annunciation prospered. He led the community out of the Great Depression. Father Lokis left Annunciation in 1943 to join the OSS (the precursor to the CIA). He was sent to Egypt where he became a spy for the Allies. After the war was over, Father Lokis returned to the United States where he resumed his career as a priest until his passing in 1953.
During World War II, the Annunciation Communityled several Greek War Relief efforts. Anastasios Mountanos, Peter Boudoures, Nick Dallas, and Gus Daldas accomplished a lot on behalf of Greek War Relief and were recognized for their efforts. During the 1940s and 1950s, a Greek radio program was broadcast from the Cathedral. The program was the voice of the Greek community. During Christmas live concerts were broadcast. The concerts were so popular that parishioners and neighborhood residents stood outside the Cathedral to enjoy holiday music.
On August 22, 1943, tragedy struck when the cathedral became the center of a love triangle which resulted in murder. Mary Raftopoulos divorced her husband Peter and had been seeing Eddie Dafnos. Mr. Raftopoulos became determined to kill the man that broke up his home. On August 22, 1943 Mr. Dafnos entered the church with two friends. All three were in the narthex. Mr. Raftopoulos saw him from the choir loft, came down the stairs and shot Mr. Dafnos several times killing him instantly. Mr. Raftopoulos was captured a few hours later. He was convicted of second degree murder and sent to San Quentin Prison.
The post-World War II years were a period of significant growth for the Cathedral. John Hodges was a significant contributor. Mr. Hodges, a San Francisco probate lawyer, was relied on to invest the funds of the Cathedral. Due to his successful investment strategy, the Cathedral was able to buy the Colonial Apartments and the Bausch & Lomb building and the Philoptochos was able to fund several major projects. Several Greek Orthodox priests relied on Mr. Hodges to invest their savings in preparation for their retirement. In later years, Mr. Hodges and his wife Violet would become major donors to Stanford University.
In 1962, the Annunciation was named Cathedral for the Metropolis of San Francisco. Later that year, the Annunciation acquired an adjacent apartment building. The building was razed to make way for the building of a new community center complex. In 1965, a major renovation of the sanctuary, auditorium, and classrooms was completed. In 1981 the Bausch & Lomb Optical Company building, located at 275 Valencia Street, became available and was purchased by the Cathedral, effectively giving the community 47,000 square feet of land. The plans were modified to accommodate, in part, the inclusion of this new acquisition. The Cathedral itself was scheduled to remain as renovated.
At 5:04 on the afternoon of October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck with a force of 7.1 on the Richter Scale. The City of San Francisco and the Bay Area were particulary hard hit by the earthquake. While the congregation of Annunciation Cathedral suffered no loss of life or personal injuries, the earthquake wreaked devastating damage to the Cathedral building. As a result, the Cathedral building was closed by the City, since structural engineers noted that a portion was in imminent danger of collapse. The parishioners voted to demolish the church and construct completely new facilities.
Given the general condition of the neighborhood, some people felt the Cathedral should relocate. Two years of searching for an alternate site ensued. Noting the prohibitive costs of new locations and the desire of many to remain on Valencia Street, on March 3, 1991 the parishioners voted unanimously to rebuld on the same site. They initially approved a $10 million plan, which proved to be too expensive. After considerable discussion on what to build first, the church or the facility, on May 12, 1992 the Parish Assembly voted to commence with construction of Phase 1 of the Master Plan, as modified, to include a 300 seat chapel, a multi-purpose hall, kitchen, classrooms, Cathedral offices at an approximate cost of $4.6 million. It should be noted that the initial seed money of $500,000 came from the Ladies Philoptochos. Their contribution to the project reached over $1 million. Ground for Phase 1 was broken on November 22, 1992.
The Annunciation serves as the Cathedral Church for the Metropolis of San Francisco. While there are several cathedral churches in the Diocese, including Holy Trinity, Phoenix; Saint Sophia, Los Angeles (which for a time served as the Cathedral church for the fourth Archdiocesan District, now the Diocese of San Francisco) and, more recently, the Ascension, Oakland, Annunciation is the seat of the Bishop of San Francisco. As a community, it serves approximately 1,000 families in the immediate area, one-half of whom are regularly pledging stewards of the Cathedral. The Cathedral is also headquarters for many fraternal and national organizations, who have assisted in its rebuilding efforts.
Over the years, the Cathedral has had a distinguished list of priests who have served as the dean of the cathedral. Three of them were later elevated to bishop and served the Archdiocese in that capacity. See list below (assistant priests are excluded).
1921-1923 -- Metropolitan Philaretos Ioannides
1923-1929 -- Rev. Fr. Pythagoras Caravellas
1929-1936 -- Rev. Fr. Spyridon Spyropoulos
1936-1943 -- Rev. Fr. Vasilios Lokis
1943-1944 -- Rev. Fr. Timothy Pantelakis
1944-1955 -- Bishop Polyefktos Finfinis
1955-1961 -- Bishop Meletios Tripodakis
1961-1971 -- Rev. Fr. John Geranios
1971-1987 -- Rev. Fr. Theophilos P. Theophilos
1987- -- Rev. Fr. Stephen H. Kyriacou
Annunciation maintains a number of programs for our senior population. Its youthful character is also apparent. One only has to look at the diversity of our youth programs: Sunday School, Greek Language School, GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of America), YAL (Young Adult League), Boys and Girls Basketball for ages seven through eighteen, Adult Basketball, Bible Study, Orthodox Church Life, Greek Folk Dancing, and Summer Camp. As if this were not enough, in 1997 we added a Sunday pre-school class, a Women’s Basketball Team, a Junior Varsity Girls Team and a Booster Program.
Annunciation hosts many other events, including Diocesan Spiritual Renewal, Religious Education and other Conferences. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit in November, 1997 points to the re-emerging prominence of Annunciation Cathedral.
On October 9, 2013, the Annunciation community signed a contract with McNely Construction to rebuild the cathedral. The project includes underground parking and a courtyard for events and is expected to last 18 months. Annunciation looks ahead to serving the larger Orthodox Christian community as well, in addition to the immediate neighborhood, which is mostly Latino. One of the considerations in deciding to remain in its present location was the commitment to the neighborhood, where the church provides a sense of order, purpose and stability. In doing so, the community is committed to serving all people, in San Francisco and beyond.
About the author: Jim Lucas is the President of the Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area, a California non-profit corporation based at Annunciation Cathedral. He is a San Francisco Bay Area Greek community historian.